Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Getting Punked in China
Joe Keithley is known as Canada's godfather of punk. In 1978 he was one of the founders of D.O.A. and the punk band has been cited as an influence to such groups as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day and Rancid. D.O.A. has toured with The Clash, The Dead Kennedys, and Nirvana.
The Vancouverite was drawn to punk as a teenager and was hooked ever since, using it as a form of expression and rebellion.
But he's isn't just about writing angry lyrics and kicking up a ruckus -- he's also an activist on the political stage. In 1996 and 2001 he ran in the British Columbia provincial elections for the Green Party, a group mainly focused on environmental issues.
And this week Keithley and his group are celebrating 30 years of D.O.A. with a tour of China.
Their trip started on January 9 with a show at Mao Live House in Beijing, followed by Wuhan, Shanghai and tonight they're back in Beijing with one more show at D-22.
I had a quick chat with Keithley on the phone earlier this evening just before he grabbed some dinner ahead of his last gig in the Chinese capital.
He was quite pleased with the China tour and likens it to his tour in Poland in 1984.
"When there's a lack of political freedom, artists -- writers, painters, musicians, poets, sculptors -- will find a way around it to express themselves in another way.
Punk is gaining popularity in China and the handful of bands I've seen have dedicated fans, both Chinese and expats, punching fists in the air and nodding their heads. They're thrilled to find the right musical outlet for their feelings.
Keithley is excited seeing the hardcore fans come out despite the language barrier and envisions China as a way to expand his already global fan base.
"You can watch as many specials as you want, read as many articles on China as you want, but that doesn't replace actually coming here and seeing what it's really like," he says.
"I've been blown away by people's mobility," Keithley notes, "though I haven't met poor people as we've been in mostly urban centres... but people seem generally happy."
During the trip he's collected CDs from various Chinese bands and may help some of them get their music out to the west with his Sudden Death Records company.
Keithley hopes to come back to China again in about a year-and-a-half, and perhaps be welcomed by bigger audiences, eager for a taste of genuine punk rock from Canada.